For Kirsty Lee and her parents, ordinary family outings such as trips to the supermarket or birthday parties are full of worry.
They face the anxiety that strangers will think the 11-year-old naughty if she suddenly screams, lashes out or runs away.
This is because Kirsty has autism, a lifelong developmental disorder.
People with the disability typically struggle with communication and social interaction. They may also display repetitive or restricted behaviour.
Kirsty was diagnosed with autism at three years old. But her parents spotted something was not quite right early on.
“When Kristy was about 18 months I and my husband compared her with our friend’s child. And we saw she was different,” said mother Nhung Nyugen.
“Kristy didn’t respond to her name. She didn’t know how to play with her toys. She preferred to play by herself. She cried or hid away when visitors came.”
One in every 100 Australian children suffers from autism, but public awareness is still lacking.
On World Autism Awareness Day, organisations that help the 115,000 Australians with the disorder are seeking to demystify the condition.
“Some cultures see autism as a curse on the family. Something shameful. What we are trying to say is, yes autism is a lifelong condition, but there is support out there for them.”
Positive Partnerships has released a short animated video to highlight the challenges some families from diverse cultural backgrounds face when dealing with the disorder. The film ‘A Family Journey’ is available in seven languages.
“Some cultures see autism as a curse on the family. Something shameful. What we are trying to say is, yes autism is a lifelong condition, but there is support out there for them,” said Positive Partnership’s Karen Jones.
In another short film ‘Spectrospective: Stories of Autism’, which is being screened in Victorian cinemas on Thursday, people share what it’s like living with autism. The project was initiated by Amaze, the peak organisation for Autism Spectrum Disorder in Victoria.
Its chief executive Fiona Sharkie hopes the film will raise awareness of the disability.
“When you have met one person with autism you have seen one experience of autism. It presents very differently in every different person. We say there are no two people with autism that are the same,” Ms Sharkie said.
World Autism Awareness Day is on April 2.